Trust Me ;)

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DigitalXBridge is the IT consulting and web development firm I began a couple months back. Where I started as a one-man show doing pure tech consulting and project management, I’ve now partnered with a web shop and SEO firm to deliver “the whole package,” in terms of web and application development, anyway.

I chose the web shop because they built FastenFinder.com for me. They were committed, they over-delivered and they were always accessible. More importantly, they had a great attitude, we made each other laugh and I completely trusted them. It’s been a perfect match. I chose the SEO shop, simply because my web shop highly recommended them. So that trust in my web shop has paid dividends to the SEO shop. And now in my initial stint with the SEO firm, they are knowledgeable to the point of being data analytics freaks, they’re down-to-Earth and best of all (for me) they’re genuine people.

This week we signed our first major client based out of NYC. Turns out I had worked with the CEO, Dan, on a freelance contract previously through a mutual reference and he was now starting a new business. He let me quote on the project for two reasons: One, I over-delivered on that freelance project. Two, I really enjoyed working with him, and it showed in my effort and  interest in his project and business. That equates to him building trust in me as a person and a professional.

So earlier this week I’m sitting in a board room with Dan’s executive team. DigitalXBridge is one of several shops they are reviewing at the time, with the other shops having years of experience over us. One is even personally recommended from Dan’s COO and CTO.

I hammer them with front-page press about my background along with highlights of my web and SEO shops. And then his VP of Marketing begins prodding me about my newly formed company and partnerships and asks “Has your team actually developed anything yet for a client?” My answer, “No, you’re our first. Scary, huh?” I smile because, really, that’s all you can do in that sort of situation. And then without hesitation, Dan leans in to clear the air, “I’ve worked with Jay previously and have no reservation about his ability to deliver exceptional work. I’d like to move forward with DigitalXBridge.”

And just like that, the trust merit badge I previously earned with Dan has awarded DigitalXBridge with our first sizable contract. w00t!

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Tomorrow is here

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Today didn’t begin when I opened my eyes at 6:30 this morning. Today started almost a year ago. On a Summer night where I called my Dad and ran a half-baked idea by him. Always encouraging, he listened and we talked it through for a good hour. The wheels were in motion, and today was born.

It’s 11 months later and today has come to an end with that idea coming to life. My website, FastenFinder.com, is officially live.

Of course I never thought today would last this long or cost me that much money, but the experience has been immeasurable and the mistakes spine-stiffening yet well-received.

And then there’s the love and support from my family and friends… you know, even before this was all in motion, I sat outside one night last Spring and read a book called Escape from Cubicle Nation by Pamela Slim. The chapter that night was setting the stage for the cynics to enter your life — criticizing and remarking about how foolish it would be to leave behind your corporate life to venture off on your own.

Not once. Not a peep of skepticism. It’s been nothing but enthusiasm and encouragement and belief in my vision. Maybe I’m lucky. Maybe it was good timing since every other person I know lost their job this year, including me. Actually, I know I’m fortunate, because not only has everyone around me been amazing, but my development team has done more to make my business a reality than I could have ever asked for. Thank you Ionut and everyone at Realnet.

Thanks Dad for convincing me I couldn’t fail, not to mention all those late night and weekend hours. Thanks Mom for thinking I’m capable of things only a Mom would believe. Thanks Jen for always showing interest in your kid brother’s crazy ideas. Thanks Jason Jr. for being so damn cute. And, of course, thanks to Maritza.. my most outspoken fan, best and first customer and (one day) my marketing director. 8^0   I love you all.

I’m ready for tomorrow.

My start-up first-aid kit

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Sort of my “top 10” list of reading material, technology, communities and services/tools I’ve put to work for me and my business. Another post I should probably come back and update every now and then.

Blogs

* Seth’s Blog
* Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist
* Six Pixels of Separation
* Duct Tape Marketing
* Small Business Trends
* Gaping Void

I read others, but these will really get your marketing To Do’s charted. But that’s just me… Look for communities of your target market and join their conversations, whatever the website and/or medium . You can also look for these communities on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Set up Google Alerts and follow specific keywords, trends, discussions. Find blogs nestled within and start reading.

Books

* Pamela Slim’s Escape from Cubicle Nation: From Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur: The kick in the ass that started it all.
* Seth Godin’s Linchpin: Changed everything I thought I knew about what it means to be an indispensable commodity, at work and in life.
* Seth Godin’s Purple Cow: Build the awe-inspiring product that changes the game and watch it sell itself, instead of exhaustively marketing a shitty product.
* Jason Fried’s (37 Signals) Rework: I’ll read this one day.
* Guy Kawasaki’s Art of the Start: I bought it out of fear of starting a business and not having one of Guy’s books, let alone this classic. I’ll get to it sooner or later.
* Chip & Dan Heath’s Switch: More about changing people’s mindsets within a company but can be applied just about anywhere.

Startup Communities

* Ultra Light Startups: They have a site and a blog, but they also meet once a month. First hour has people stand up and pitch their business plans (you need a website and need to be the founder/pres/owner in order to pitch). Next 60 minutes has a panel that talks about a certain topic; e.g. SEO, social platforms… mostly tech-oriented. Great for networking. I met a client there.
* LinkedIn: Aside from the obvious, it serves up and connects you with startup groups from all corners of the entrepeneurial map. One I belong to is OnStartups (which also has a blog)
* Lavapeople: Just joined this one… another entrepreneurial playground, allowing business owners to network, pitch their busisiness, all that jazz
* Startup Nation: Great community with bulletin boards-style communication combined with lots of FAQs, documentation, references, etc

Business, Techy, Financial & General Administrative Services & Tools

* FreshBooks: QuickBooks what? FreshBooks is the simple, clean interface Microsoft could never dream to cook up. Add clients, team members, billable tasks, projects. Track and invoice time. Add contractors and sub their time out. Create professional-looking invoices. All web-based.

* Simply Invoices: Want something even more lean and straight-forward than FreshBooks? Simply Invoices is your accounting answer.

* Basecamp: Maybe it parlays nicely into the fact that I do Project Management for clients, but I think anyone building a business could leverage this organizational tool. Invite your team to use it, post messages, write & manage To Do lists, send messages, share files, set milestones. It also has a ton of add-ons and integrates with financial tools like Freshbooks and Simply Invoices.

* Grasshopper: Set up virtual, toll-free phone (or local) numbers which can then be routed to physical landlines or cell phones, with unlimited extensions. You can set up greetings and away messages, manage your calls online, receive textual voicemails via e-mail or SMS. You can even set your own on-hold music… I wasted at least 45 minutes picking a song “everyone would love”. I came up with Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic”. I like it.

* Mint: This is more for personal finance balancing, but I’m sure any business owner would appreciate having all of their accounts (bank accounts, credit cards, income, loans, etc) in 1 snapshot. You can set up budgets, research spending patterns and get general financial advice and money-saving tips. Not sure whether them being bought out by Intuit is a good thing, yet, but I suppose we’ll keep a close eye.

* WordPress: My blogging software of choice. There are others, if you even like to write, but WordPress has all the features I need. If blogging is more your core business, you can download their application, install on your servers and skin it to look like your own site. I did this on FastenFinder.com (site will be up soon..).

* Adium (Pidgin for PC): If you live and breathe by instant messaging communication like most geeks do, these IM clients aggregate all the big protocols (Yahoo, GTalk, MSN, AIM, etc) under 1 roof. It doesn’t integrate with Skype, which is another must-have IM client, if for nothing else, it’s VoIP calling capabilities which allow you to make free long-distance (read: international) calls fo’ free.

* VMWare: If you’re on a Mac but need to still run Windows, VMWare is as good as it gets. Parallels is nice runner-up.

* Dropbox: There’s no reason to lose data if your machine takes a shit. Dropbox makes it mindless to backup and sync your files. Just download the light app and it will back up all files on their secured server, which you can then access from another Windows PC, Mac or Linux operating system, as well as from mobile devices. You can get a free 2 GB account or get serious with a 100 GB paid account.

* Balsamiq Mockups: More a tool for the IT consultant, project manager, business analyst or web designer/developer.. Balsamiq is a refreshing tool, run on Adobe Air that lets you create painless wireframes. If you don’t know what those are, you don’t need this.

* XMarks: Backup and sync all of your browser bookmarks. If you lose your computer in a mudslide, no worries about trying to figure out all of those “favorites” you visit daily; just install XMarks and grab your bookmarks from their server. The Firefox plug-in is probably the way to go

Speaking of web browsers, I recommend Firefox, especially if you’re a customization freak like me. Some acceptable alternatives include Chrome or Safari (Macs only). If you use Internet Explorer you need a beating).

* KeePass (KeePassX for Mac): Password manager. With somewhere around 400 online identities, a techy bastard like me obviously can’t live without it.

* LastPass: Password manager specially for websites. I suggest going with the Firefox add-on.

* Google Apps for Business: Google docs, e-mail, calendars, video and sites empowering and securing your business. Not sure what else to say. If you have any questions getting your business migrated onto this platform, ask. I’ve done it all for both of my businesses, Melfast and a client. It’s awesome.

* Gmail: Speaking of Google, Gmail is their email client. I really see no need to use another client. Tons of features, settings, add-ons. I love it so much I have 5 accounts, but then, I’m weird.

* Gmail Manager: And for those psychos out there like me, this little Firefox add-on gives you dashboard like viewing and control of your 10 million different Gmail accounts.

* Flux: A retina-saver if you’re someone that stares at a computer 24/7, flux adjusts your screen brightness/contrast based on the time of day. I haven’t had a headache since I started using it. +1 for flux!

* Pandora One: Because if I didn’t have music throughout my work day, I would be in the asylum. And while you’re at is, go grab the Bose Quiet Comfort headphones to dull out the retards yelling and bitching around you. Pandora One is the paid app which means no commercials and endless skipping of crap songs. There is also a free version.

Geek destiny

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My friends used to say I had multiple personalities. They even named them at one point .. Yardwork Jay likes to build patios, brags about his collection of power tools (mostly inherited, er, stolen, from big Lar) and is completely consumed with his perfectly manicured, green lawn. OCD Jay, well, obsesses. Mostly about organization, like having all the things on my desk parallel to one another and facing toward me. Forget it… Stacker Jay rose to fame during my mid-20’s and had a tendency to overdose on Stackers before heading out for beers. This was when ephedra was not only legal, but sold next to slushies at 7-11. Then there was Raver Jay; a Siamese clone of DJ Jay. This was my persona through the college years. We’ll skip over these two for now. I put my parents through enough for those 5 years. There are others, but around 12 years ago, right around the time I started getting paid to sling code, Programmer Jay was born. Ah, the innermost core of my nerdy self.

Like I was telling you in my career death note, I just recently signed a new client under DigitalXBridge (my consulting gig). It’s day four and I’ve already been hacking up some SSH commands in a terminal client, installed VMWare and successfully run a Windows7 virtual image (about to do the same for Ubuntu), checked out a trunk of code from Subversion and compiled and deployed my first Java build in over 7 years.

My title at Melfast is ‘IT Director’. This confuses everyone there so I wrote up a job description. They’re now more confused so I know I got it just right.

I haven’t had less than 3 computers on my desk since I started and am helping to deploy a new ERP and inventory management system. I’ve been writing SQL scripts to migrate data between databases.

I should have stopped at the part about SSH commands…

Point is, I’ve strayed over the years and forgotten how much I love surrounding myself with technology. Don’t get me wrong, I will always gloat when neighbors stop to ask me how I get my lawn so full and green. But a salesman at Melfast came up to me today and asked, “You chose to go into computers, on purpose?” I smiled ear-to-ear and said, “Yep!” He walked away shaking his head. A mixture, I’m sure, of bewilderment and pity for me; especially considering the entire office is convinced I have a crush on my new Macbook Pro.

Wow. I probably just lost half of the people that are kind enough to read this nonsense, alienated my friends even further and given my wife nerd-insult-ammunition for the next year or so. Luckily she doesn’t even know what a blog is.

I’m getting to the point…

By some fluke, the Cuban and I caught a segment of the local news last night – a ritual I swore off when I was around 12 because of all the sky-is-falling, sensationalist, ratings-based bullshit they cover. Ironically enough, they were reporting on this woman who had just turned 105. They asked her, “What do you contribute to your long life?” Short and sweet, this little bundle of wrinkled joy said, “Do what you love. And if it involves music, play it all the time!”

At this rate, I should make it to at least 95; so long as Yardwork Jay and his assortment of power tools doesn’t kill me first.

Would love to hear from anyone who’s had the balls to stop doing just to do, and instead, is doing what makes them happy.

Memorial services for my career

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Over the last year plus I’ve found myself overusing the phrase, “everything happens for a reason.” But only in the past months did I consciously notice the words coming out of my mouth or forming in my head during a one-way dialogue with myself.

I do believe in fate, to some degree, but lately, I’ve been relying on it. Anyway, I’m dancing around the subject, again. I was laid off. This is typically communicated as bad news. I would image a past version of myself, or someone not in my position, trying to sweep it under the rug quickly and get back on the horse. But in this story, in my case, it was a long overdue and highly-appreciative turning point. The details of my exit would have made for a great episode on The Days of Our Lives, but nothing I want to drag you through or relive here. This is called MyGreenerGrass, after all. But no, this is about why I’m grateful it happened.

Now, being the eternal cynic that I am, if I were reading this, I would immediately dismiss it as an ex-employee trying to build back up his pride and self-worth. Fair enough. But that same damaged ego would be out on the hunt for their next paycheck. Hungry for their next 401k, disability coverage and annual review. This is not my plan.

Short of conceding to complete blame for this situation, I will admit that I haven’t exactly spent the past year or so as a model employee. Since my falling out with several people in this company last Summer, my heart and conscience have been elsewhere. And during my radio silence for the past few weeks, I labored with the idea of posting this kind of material for the world to see.. still clinging to some threatening fear that a potential employer would read it and consider me damaged goods. But the reality is, my days of filling out a W4 are, in the words Paulie D, “doneski.”

The truth of the matter is that I had actually planned on leaving this job in June. Instead, they moved up my timetable let me go and handed me 7 weeks severance which directly translates to more time and unexpected funding for my business (bonus!). And while my website will be live within the month, I also went out and started freelancing as a technical Business Analyst / Project Manager. Just signed my second client this past Thursday and officially formed my second company, DigitalXBridge Consulting. People are willing to pay me to do what I do well, when I want, where I want. What have I been thinking for the past decade? And last but not least, I finally partnered up with Dad at Melfast, AKA my company’s vendor. (I absolutely plan on writing a post about life in small office, NJ. A welcome change from the tense, stuffy air on Wall St.) Yeah, OK, so I’m juggling 3 jobs and a business. But I’ve never been happier.

The end.

That wasn’t so bad. I feel like I just went to confession, or wrote my career’s right of passage. Maybe I should inscribe an epitaph on this post. Something like, “Here lies the first 12 years of Jason Melone’s career as an employee. May they rest in peace and be resurrected for a greater good.”

———–

UPDATE: OK, you can’t make this stuff up… as I’m about to publish this post, my friend (and worst enemy) at my ex-employer just IM’d me to give me some juice on some recent happenings. He tells me, since I was let go, a new CEO was brought in, 8 others have been fired (and escorted from the building!), all consultants have been disbanded, one of the company’s core products had its plug pulled, the entire company is “on probation” and the multi-million dollar software project he and I had been managing is in jeopardy of being shelved. Ouch.

So yeah, what I was saying?… oh, right, everything happens for a reason. Ah, fate, you are a tricky bitch.

Safe sucks

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Riding a Port Authority escalator is generally an emotionless event. This remains true until you’re nearly shown your untimely death by people rushing up behind you and throwing you out of their way. This was the scene in my life today as two men shot up the “fast lane” of my escalator. For those not accustomed to the rules of riding an escalator in Manhattan, the left “side” (regardless of how narrow it is) is reserved for people in an extra hurry, electing to additionally climb up/down the escalator stairs while riding. If you’re in no rush and opt to coast along with the escalator’s programmed speed, you simply stand to the right. I typically navigate the left side, but today, even climbing the stairs of this escalator at my moderate pace was not quick enough for these two frantic, would-be jean evangelists.

What was the rush? They NEEDED to track down another passenger riding the escalator 10 people ahead who was apparently wearing “game-changing” jeans, of course. Now, I am by no means a fashion mogul, but this guy’s jeans were the ugliest things I think I’ve ever seen on a man. And keep in mind, I’m from New Jersey and see plenty of poor dress decisions made on a daily basis (no offense, bro). I guess I can’t blame him. He tried. The tan-colored snake pattern carelessly stitched on matched his tan turtleneck and tan Timberland boots. But now I’m getting shoved out of the way because the jeans that looked like someone puked on them while being spun on a rotisserie, had fans.

They caught up to the guy and the temptation to listen to their exchange was too much to pass up on. I removed my earphones and the first words I hear are “hot son!” …. I imagined throwing something at them.

My bus happened to be in the bay next to the guy with the tan puke snake jeans so I walked alongside him for the next 5 minutes (not because I wanted to). He beamed the whole way to his bus. Jesus, really?? But then something triggered. While 99.5% of the Earth’s population would assume these jeans were a practical joke or that the person wearing them was legally blind, there is a handful of people who will cherish them. Even more importantly, there is probably next to no one that will NOT have an opinion on them. And that is what made these jeans perfect. They had pissed me off, inspired two others to pursue them to the point of nearly committing escalator homicide and gotten the owner the glory and attention he’d hoped for by buying them. I’m sure it wouldn’t be long until he picked up his next pair, the two strangers bought their first pair and all three spread the word that these jeans can make even you a Port Authority bus terminal celebrity.

Safe is boring, has been done before and will fail every time. Invest your energy in making things one person will hate, her best friend will covet, and no will forget.

Inspirational Shrink-wrap

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In no particular order .. a collection of things that bring me inspiration, force a smile to my face and make life better. (I’ll come back and update this every now and then)

Honest, passionate writing — take a peak at Seth Godin’s blog, Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist , David Remnick at the New Yorker, Hugh Macleod’s Gaping Void.

Being able to quell conflict, calmly and without taking insult. It’s harder than you think.

Inventors of new as opposed to creators of popular.

Anyone who can balance being considerate and living without fear of being judged. These are the people that sing to themselves, dance when everyone else is looking and create art to share with strangers.

Mastery of innocent, witty sarcasm.

Staying focused, no matter the stakes .. from social workers to 9th inning world series closers.

My wife’s ability to express her heartfelt emotions without a filter. Every so often it’s scary, most times it’s beautiful.

Genius intellects that remain humble.

The smell of grass and the trove of childhood memories it brings to the surface.

Artists. The list is long, but I could get lost here for hours.

Maintaining your vision when “experts” say it can’t be. Building and doing what you feel is right, not because it will fit with today’s model. Experts are ‘experts’ because they know precisely how yesterday worked, which has nothing to do with tomorrow.

June 21st, and not just because it’s my birthday.

Good music. Music that you’re happy to wake up to on a rainy Monday morning in February. Music that reminds you of anything from when you were half your age. Music that makes you love someone more. Music that gives you the chills. Music that makes you run faster. Music that you appreciate so much you don’t sing over. Music that you can’t help but to sing every word at the top of your lungs. Music that interrupts your occupied mind and reminds you to open your eyes.

People who have nothing but still find room to give.

What inspires you?